by Austin Bay
March 18, 2020
From March 16 through March 31, the United States will conduct a calculated national experiment that leverages its residents' personal responsibility to combat a strategic threat that has transnational dimensions, the COVID-19/Wuhan virus. Local to global is a cliche, but during this 15-day period, Trump administration medical advisers, among them the distinguished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, plan to use very local actions to achieve aggregate national effects that will have global impact.
On March 13, President Donald Trump invoked the Stafford Act and declared the virus to be a national emergency. The act gives the White House and executive agencies the freedom to immediately provide states with federal funds, logistics assets and other federal government resources.
Call this federal-led response the macro-effort in America's battle with the epidemic. The 15-day experiment, however, is an attempt to aggregate approximately 340 million individual "micro-efforts" in order to slow the disease transmission rate, buying time so the macro-effort can succeed.
The American people are being asked to do -- or not do -- many things commonplace in a free and wealthy democracy.
Here's a sketch of the dos and don'ts. For 15 days:
-- Restrict travel as much as possible.
-- Avoid large crowds (collegiate and professional sports leagues have suspended their seasons).
-- Minimize personal interaction as much as possible (don't meet in groups of more than 10 people).
-- If you become ill (even with a common cold), self-quarantine and rest.
-- If you suspect you have come in contact with someone who has contracted the virus, self-quarantine, and contact your doctor or a health clinic.
The goal of this disciplined exercise in self- and family isolation is slowing the rate of person-to-person transmission and curbing the number of new infections. Even in the wealthy U.S., tens of thousands a day falling ill to a viral pneumonia would overwhelm medical facilities and caregivers.
Over time, reducing new infections has mathematical payoffs. The dire prospect of an exponential increase in illnesses recedes. Depicted on a graph, an exponential increase in virus cases (or deaths) is a sharply rising curve with no visible peak. Hence the new media cliche "flatten the curve" -- slow the spread so we can assist the ill and stop the epidemic's killing spree.
The experiment bets on free citizens following Fauci's guidance and acting in their common interest, a common American national interest, not balkanized grievance and identity-politics factionalism. Don't deny it. At this moment of crisis, extremist scorn of a common American identity is a social and political obstacle to combating the virus. Unfortunately, one of our two major political parties, the Democratic Party, has spent four decades indulging hatemongers who scorn a common American identity.
The experiment faces economic obstacles. Lives are at stake, but so are paychecks. Fifteen days of limited economic activity puts a hole in the gross domestic product and strains middle-class families on tight budgets. Two to three weeks with no customers threatens small businesses.
The Trump administration is already considering a payroll tax cut and direct financial aid to assist middle-class citizens and small businesses. Both are great ideas.
But local efforts also matter. I know of two small businesses in the city where I live that have decided to wage economic war on the virus. One is a construction company whose owner has promised to pay employees who become ill. Employees are to stay home for three days with pay while doctors assess their health. The other is my favorite restaurant, an Italian joint. Responding to the crisis, it has temporarily closed, so its employees are out of work. Yesterday the owners promised they will do everything they can -- raise money, take loans -- to provide employees with financial support once "this is done."
I wager small-business owners are making similar offers nationwide.
One last point: The virus' name game has become an absurd example of manipulative identity politics. The virus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan. For two months, mainstream media called it Wuhan virus. Now China's communist dictators, attempting to evade responsibility for initially denying the disease existed and, in doing so, spawning the global epidemic -- contend the name "Wuhan virus" is racist. Absurd propaganda. Lyme disease? Remind Beijing it's named for a town in Connecticut. I'll stick with COVID-19/Wuhan, thank you.